The Skill of Listening

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When my wife Jenny was expecting our second child – we thought it would be Natalie, but instead we were blessed with Nathan – she was asked by a lady at church one morning how her pregnancy was progressing. To provide some background, Jenny enjoyed excellent health throughout her first pregnancy, but during the delivery the baby became distressed, and Luke had to be delivered by an emergency caesarean. With this in mind, Jenny responded, “I’m well, thank you. I have wonderful pregnancies but difficult deliveries.” To which the lady replied, “Oh, that’s wonderful. I am so pleased for you.”

That lady failed to listen. She heard only what she wanted to hear. Had she listened to Jenny’s full answer, she would have had to ask another question and continue the conversation. But she wasn’t listening.

Her failing is a common fault. We have been blessed with the gift of hearing, but that does not mean we automatically listen. There is a tremendous difference between hearing and listening. When we hear, we understand what is said; when we listen, we feel what is being said.

Listening is not something that comes naturally. It is an art to be developed, a skill to be learned. Listening is a crucial skill in being an effective communicator, so what are some of the qualities of good listening?

Good listening involves the whole body. Obviously we listen with our ears, but our body language can convey a powerful message to others as to whether or not we are genuinely listening. A sure indication of interest is eye contact. Other meaningful gestures are an affirming nod of the head, a smile, and a comforting touch. All of these help to convey the message, “I’m with you. Tell me more.”

But there is one part of the body that should be used sparingly when we listen: the tongue. Sometimes we can be thinking so much about what we are going to say that we do not listen to others. Often people are not seeking advice but rather they want a sympathetic listener.

When we listen to others, we shall soon go beyond small talk and touch upon deeper and more sensitive issues. In those circumstances the qualities of trust and confidentiality will be critical in effective listening.

In summary, a verse in the Bible puts it this way: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (James1:19) The world needs good listeners. Let us try to be better listeners to our families and friends.

Pastor David McKibben
Galston Seventh-day Adventist Church